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On the way to Afghanistan, Holbrooke seeks to ease tensions with NATO

Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, wants to unify allies at a time when many Europeans sense drift in the war and a lack of clear US policy.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 14, 2009


President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is traveling to Europe and Moscow before attending Afghan President Hamid Karzai's second inauguration next week, for what the State Department says are "routine meetings."

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But with deep divisions surfacing in the Obama administration's internal debate on the future course in Afghanistan, and with European allies starting to air their concerns about a lack of direction in the war effort, the visits look to be more about easing tensions.

Mr. Holbrooke, who attended the president's Afghanistan policy review session Wednesday, was in Berlin Thursday and is in Paris Friday, before returning to Germany Saturday. He will then go to Moscow Sunday, before heading to Kabul to attend President Karzai's inauguration for his second term Nov. 19.

"These routine meetings are part of continued efforts to stay in close touch with allies and partners on Afghanistan and Pakistan," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Thursday, in announcing Holbrooke's travel.

But Holbrooke's purpose in NATO-member capitals especially is more likely aimed at addressing consternation over a sense of drift in the war and a lack of any clear US policy for going forward, some analysts say.

"The ongoing public debate about Afghanistan has already cost the US credibility with its NATO allies and is confusing our regional allies, who are starting to hedge their bets and plan for a decreased US commitment to the region," says Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

European allies have been privately communicating their growing unease – especially as home constituents turn against the NATO war effort in growing numbers, as polls from Britain to Germany show.